What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Does it Matter?
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to be aware of and communicate our own emotions in addition to having an awareness of and sensitivity to the feelings of others. Humans are by nature social creatures and our success as a species results, in part, from the ability to understand and respond to the needs of others.
Supporting our children to develop emotional intelligence lays the foundations for their future wellbeing. It helps them to:
- Form and maintain satisfying friendships.
- Regulate their emotions.
- Communicate effectively.
- Become empathic.
- Do better at school work.
- Understand themselves.
These qualities are core components of a happy life. Awareness of your own emotions allows you to be in touch with yourself and return more easily to return to a state of balanced wellness. Dan Buettner’s research on longevity shows that people are more likely to live to a hundred if they feel part of a community. Knowing how to cultivate strong relationships, therefore, is a vital part of living well. It is a skill you can teach your children.
How do I raise an emotionally intelligent child?
Talk About Feelings
Right from the start of your child’s life you can start to name their feelings for them, for example, if they are smiling you can say, “you look happy”. This supports the development of emotional vocabulary. Later when they begin talking you can offer feeling words, by saying things like, “are you feeling sad” to help and encourage them to express what is going on inside.
For children age two to eight, when you are reading a book together, pause every now and again to think about the kinds of emotions the characters might be experiencing. This can help children develop an awareness of other people’s feelings and increase their capacity to empathise.
At every stage, let your child know that their emotions are welcome. Good mental health results from fully feeling rather than suppressing emotions.
“Instead of resisting any emotion, the best way to dispel it is to enter it fully, embrace it and see through your resistance.” – Deepak Chopra.
Use Emotion Coaching
Emotion Coaching is an approach developed by Professor John Gottman, it can be used with pre-schoolers all the way up to teens and even beyond. There is now a lot of evidence to show that Emotion Coaching helps children increase their emotional intelligence. It has been linked with other benefits including improved academic performance and behaviour. You can use Emotion Coaching in moments of conflict, stress or challenge. The five steps of Emotion Coaching are as follows;
1 – Be aware of your emotions
Take a moment to pause… take a deep breath and notice how you are feeling. If you have gone into a stress response you might want to take a moment to offer yourself compassion. Try to accept rather than resisting the feelings you are having, this can help them to move through.
2 – Connect with your child
When you have done this, turn your attention to your child. Notice what they might be feeling. Do they seem wound up and agitated, tearful or quiet and still. If you can, offer compassion to your child. Imagine surrounding them with love.
3 – Listen to your child
Allow your child to talk to you about what is happening, listen carefully and try to validate their experience.
4 – Name the feelings
Support your child to name their feelings about what is happening, for example, “it looks like you were having a lot of fun playing, it must be really hard that you have to stop. How do you feel about that?”. Again try to validate their experience and offer compassion and soothing.
5 – Find solutions together
When your child is feeling better you can come up with solutions together. If someone has been hurt or property damaged, help your child to empathise with the other person involved. Encourage them to find ways to make amends.
Using Emotion Coaching allows your child to increase their capacity for meta-cognition which simply means thinking about thinking. It is a valuable skill throughout life and has been linked to better problem solving and planning.
Many of us were taught as children not to express or share our feelings. As a result we might sometimes be unaware of how we really are. Learning to access and acknowledge our internal state can take time and practice but is worth doing. If you practise naming your feelings alongside your child you are role modelling how to be emotionally articulate. Children learn a lot from watching and imitating, especially in the early years, so working on your capacity to share and reflect upon feelings is a gift to them.
Use the “Thermometer”
This strategy works well with children under ten. Try having a picture of a thermometer on the wall – when you notice yourself becoming stressed or angry, point to the thermometer and say to your child, “my temperature is starting to rise”. Encourage them to do the same. Brainstorm ideas together about how to calm down when your temperature starts rising, for example, eating a snack (if you get hangry like me!), shaking your body, deep breaths or having someone make you laugh.
If your temperature gets too high you or your child might need to take some time to express and release the anger in a way which is safe for you and those around you. If this happens, be gentle with yourself on the way back down. It is important to take time to recover from any strong emotion by doing something nurturing for yourself like wrapping in a blanket and drinking hot chocolate.
These are a few ideas to help you and your child develop emotional literacy. If you need more support please reach out to email@example.com.